Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book: Fifty Shades of Grey - trilogy

Despite the furor over the Fifty Shades trilogy, I really had no intention of reading the books anytime soon.  However, my daughter lent me her copies, and I didn't see the point in wasting the opportunity to read them free.

Each book had its pros and cons, and what I remember, I'll list, but mostly this is about the trilogy as a whole.  First and foremost, the Fifty Shades trilogy is a love story.  It's not recognizable as a romance if you've spent any significant time reading romance novels, but it IS a love story.  

There's a lot of sex, and I do mean a lot.  You might expect to find all manner of strange and bizarre sexual practices in the books, judging from the labels thrown around in mainstream media, the most controversial of which is "mommy porn."  Ugh.  That may be a post in itself, but that label grates at me.

Christian is a practicing Dominant, and has had a succession of submissive lovers contracted to him over the last eightish years.  He meets Anastasia and without understanding what the attraction is, falls for her, hard.  He approaches her in the only way he knows how and offers her a contract as his submissive.  Ana not only is clueless about the relationship he's offering, she's never had sex at all, but she's equally attracted to Christian and after serious consideration, accepts his contract but keeps it from her closest friends.

Here's the odd part.  This contract, which is laid out in the book, is easily the kinkiest thing I read in all three books.  It outlines what could happen and asks Anastasia to define the limits of the relationship - what she will and won't do or allow to be done to her (her soft and hard limits), and it's pretty thorough.  Yes, you read that second sentence right.  There is almost no sex in the book that could really be deemed very kinky.  There is some anal play, which for some may fall outside the vanilla label.  There is some spanking and even whipping, some light bondage and one instance of not so light bondage and one use of what I think from reading another book is called a St Andrew's cross.  All the rest of the sex I remember is consensual vanilla sex between two adults, though definitely not all missionary vanilla sex by any stretch of the imagination.  There are toys involved, and lubes and certainly they use just about every room in the house and more than a few outside of the house.

That's not to say that the story is all hearts and roses, because it's not.  Anastasia is, as I stated earlier, completely clueless about the D/s relationship, and struggles with the issues her lack of understanding causes.  She forgets to use her safe word to stop something that is hurting her and blames Christian for her mistake.  She wonders constantly during the first book if she can really handle what Christian wants from her but keeps going back nonetheless.  Christian, for his part, is more patient and understanding than he would be with someone already in the BDSM lifestyle, though extraordinarily possessive, and intolerant of Ana's insecurities.  Christian is extremely resistant to the idea of a relationship that is not contractual.  He doesn't know how to do that, believes he is incapable, doesn't want to.

Now for the bad.  Overall, this trilogy could have used a more professional editor.  By that I mean one who wasn't so involved in the story that he or she failed to see fixable issues.  In the first book, there is an egregious overuse of the word "clamber" in all its permutations.  I'm not talking about ten or twelve times, either.  I mean easily over a hundred uses in a four-hundred-page book (Maybe shorter, I didn't actually count the pages).  The word continued to be overused in the second book, though not as extensively, and the third book had a totally different word or phrase that I got sick of reading (though I've forgotten it at the moment) and it didn't begin to approach the quantity of clamber in the first one.  There were grammar and spelling mistakes that could have and should have been caught and fixed prior to printing, enough that I thought more than once, "Wow, she should have gotten a better editor."  Probably I was not supposed to be thinking with a red pen while I was reading her books.   James has some skill to hone before she'll be really good.

After a while, I got a little tired of the lack of sexual imagination.  There was nothing here that I hadn't read before, certainly nothing to warrant the label "mommy porn" or any kind of porn.  Erotic, yes, sometimes.  Sexy, definitely.  Porn, not hardly.  Christian was supposed to be this dominant with a capital D, and he was in charge nearly always, but as he was portrayed in the book, he didn't have much imagination, or if he had it, he didn't use it.  There were several occasions when I read something and just knew it was going to get really good, and then was disappointed by the vanilla sex, albeit slightly rough vanilla sex.  Mostly, I think it was supposed to be kinky just because Christian was In Charge.  Whatever.  After the furor of the trilogy's over-the-top sexual escapades, I was disappointed to finish reading and realize that nothing truly different ever actually happened.  I've read kinkier flashfic.

On to the good.  E. L. James has some serious writing chops, and I would love to read more from her, assuming she hires herself a more competent editor.  I laughed and cried and got involved with the characters, and fell in love with Christian and Anastasia as they were falling in love with each other.  I want to read more about these two, and about their continuing adventures, and those of their extended family.  I can't give a much better compliment than that.  No one was two-dimensional.  

The sex was well-written, despite being rather too vanilla to live up to the hype.  There was no tab A, slot B boring description, though it was sometimes a bit repetitive.  The contract was pretty comprehensive, and showed at the very least that E. L. James researched the subject matter enough to adequately share something with which not all of us have first-hand experience.  The explanations of the contractual D/s relationship were written in such a way that it was interesting to read rather than being an infodump on an unsuspecting Anastasia/reading audience, though Anastasia was understandably overwhelmed several times.

At the end of the third book, there were some extras, including a small passage from Christian's perspective. Though I would not want to read the entire trilogy again from his point of view, there are at least half a dozen important forks in the road (certainly several from each book) where I would love to know what was going through his mind.  In particular, during that very powerful moment in the second book, I want to know what was going through him to cause him to make that not entirely conscious choice.

The epilogue, though entirely too long, not only gave us a happy enough ending, but it also totally left room for us to revisit Christian and Anastasia and to share further triumphs and tragedies.

Overall, while I was disappointed that Fifty Shades did not live up to the media hype with regard to deeply exploring the D/s relationship and the BDSM lifestyle in general, I truly enjoyed the love that developed between Christian and Anastasia and will likely read all three books again some time soon.  I did learn some new things about dominants and submissives and "laters, baby" made its way into my vocabulary.  :D